Equanimity: A few of my Favorite Trees
Equanimity is a relatively new word in my daily vocabulary. I am only just learning what it means to lean into an equanimous mind.
Trees, on the other hand, have always been a part of my life. The Ents of Fangorn Forest are as familiar to me as the birds inhabiting them.
People are like trees.
These are the three threads I hope to weave together in this blog, in my ongoing exploration of where Buddhist thinking and practice intersects with what I am learning about life through my work in ACoA—with some fun photography thrown in to add color, texture and depth.
This is the fourth blog dealing with what are known as the Brahma Viharas, or Divine Abodes of Buddhism. The fourth is Upekkha, Equanimity. The others are Metta-Loving Kindness, Karuna-Compassion, and Mudita-Sympathetic Joy. By now you will have seen the progression of one to the next. Actions grounded in kindness cultivate compassion and open to sympathetic joy. The result is equanimity of spirit. There is a similar progression of spiritual depth seen in the writing of St. Paul, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…” (Romans 5:3). This almost Newtonian cause and effect, action and reaction, dynamic is a core element in our experience of life. Amidst all the randomness there are these hopeful, calming and orienting patterns.
Equanimity can be defined in many ways. Quiet stability (acceptance?) in the face of impermanence, attachment and uncertainty. That seems to hold most of it.
In some ways equanimity is a goal of my meditation practice, though it is important to add that the equanimity sought in practice is something I hope will permeate all of my life, not just my life on the mat. At the same time I understand equanimity as a fruit not a product; something more organic than mechanical. I don’t meditate expressly to gain equanimity. I would hope that equanimity would progressively emerge in my life as I deepen my meditation practice.
For example, when I was meditating this morning my mind wandered around, as it does and will, after an initial period of clear and steady focus. When I awoke from the wandering, I noted this with kindness, compassion and joy. “I am awake to my experience!” And so I ended my sit with peace, acceptance of things as they are, as opposed to judgment or disturbance.
I need to be careful here. I am a dreamer. My dreams and daydreams can become a dulling escape as easily as they provide a calming context. Equanimity is not dullness, nor is it escape. Equanimity is fully aware, fully feeling, fully accepting, and fulling knowing.
And now, a few words about trees…
I was fortunate to grow up in a home surrounded by trees. My favorite spots as a young boy were invariably the crooks of trees into which I would climb or the natural “forts” at the base of large trees from which to plan my next adventure or savor my most recent. Trees come in all shapes, textures and sizes. They change all through the year, and even in the course of a day. Trees have personality, presence and power. I grieve when I have to or choose to cut one down, and yet am grateful for the beauty of a fine piece of wooden furniture, or the warmth of a campfire. I love watching trees move. I love feeling their bark. I love the smell of sap and sawdust. They have life in abundance, ever evolving and ever substantial. Sounds a little like Upekkha!
And this brings me to ACoA, and tying together these strands of morning reflection. People are like trees. I am like a tree. Unique, evolving, expressive, textured and…all around me. Like the trees around our home there are some people I am more familiar with. These I have learned about, learning also how I relate to them. Other people, strangers, new acquaintances, fellow travelers in ACA, are not as familiar. I see in other people bits of myself. Sometimes this is comforting, and sometimes disconcerting and challenging. I can’t avoid people (well, I do try at times). I can’t avoid myself. Living with others is sort of like an extended meditation practice (and this is another way of defining Mindfulness). Aversion is being known. Happiness is being known. Confusion feels like this.
Going to ACA meetings is one of the ways I practice interacting with (tree)people. We come in all sorts, shapes, sizes, textures, personalities, temperaments, and mindsets. This is how it is. This is all Dhamma work—the truth about life, about people, and about myself.